Interview with John Vaillant

I had such a treat this week to interview author John Vaillant about the book that we are currently reading in TVO’s TeachOntario. The questions were developed in conjunction with the book club’s participants.

Usually when I have interviewed people in the past, I have simply used Google Hangouts on Air and hit record.  This time I needed to adapt to the new Livestream option inside YouTube (which is just like Google Hangouts on Air but hidden) and I had the marvelous Matthew O’Mara to school me on a few production tips.  I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and to be encouraged to pick up this timely and treacherous adventure.  For my review of this book, please go to The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman

The Magicians Trilogy Boxed SetThe Magicians Trilogy Boxed Set by Lev Grossman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you remember how you felt at the end of the Harry Potter books…you couldn’t believe it was all over? Lev Grossman’s world renderings have left me feeling like I have been to another world and back again. Truthfully, I didn’t start enjoying Harry Potter as an adult until we got to #3 The Prisoner of Azkaban and things took a turn to the darker. Well, Grossman starts you with that delicious darkness right away by following the angsty college-age characters into the pits of their binge-drinking, malaise, and their general feelings of invincibility. It took me awhile to get Quentin Coldwater, our protagonist, as he begins as such an unlikeable character: weak, needy, low self-esteem and perpetually whinging. Hanging in there with Quentin means you get to enjoy Grossman’s foils: Julia, Eliot, Alice, Janet, Penny and Plum. Each of his friends is suprisingly complex and I looked forward to every encounter. Grossman isn’t gentle with his readers…he expects you to have a well-versed lexicon of pop culture and regularly twists icons of the fantasy world to his will. This is a reader’s book. There may even be an encyclopedia on The Magicians’ Lore and Easter Eggs out there somewhere….and if not then someone needs to conjure one. Of course I loved the Neitherlands’ library most and I’d like to spend some real time there if I just had the right button.

I think Grossman may be ahead of his time, combining this almost dystopian and back again version of the typical fantasy quest with very real struggles with mental health themes, the continuous search for identity and enough modern slang to quickly date this book. I will recommend it to everyone but I’m not sure it will suit everyone’s taste as it breaks all sorts of archetypal rules. And readers like their archetypes.

On a side note: I am not particularly enjoying the casting of Quentin Coldwater in the TV series and actually my favourite actor is the one playing Penny, who is grossly underused in Grossman’s The Magicians. Maybe Mr. Grossman will reward my loyalty by writing a spin-off series just about Penny? Or Plum…she’s awesome too.

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Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola

Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships (Baltimore, #1)Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s dark and dingy but it has this throwback, homage feeling to it that really appealed to my sense of design. The story uses many archetypes and predictable twists and turns as there is a plague, and zombie-esque creatures and vampires, but really our hunter is fighting evil, and that never really goes out of style, does it? My favourite part is when the pretty sidekick (who just can’t seem to keep her blouse on her shoulders) escapes the onslaught of the zombies by hiding inside a submarine full of corpses. I’ll have to see what my secondary school readers think of it as they are always craving more brains….errr, zombies. More zombies! More zombies!

Baltimore reminds me more of something about the same age as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde then a modern day graphic novel. If you like fog and death, you’re going to love it.

Image result for baltimore the plague ships

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Why you should read The Jaguar’s Children right now

In 2015 award-winning author John Vaillant released his first novel “The Jaguar’s Children” saying that the issues of Mexico’s plight are just too complex to do justice in a non-fiction book.  The book cover shows a wall….the same wall that everyone is talking about in 2017.


It’s this wall that our main characters Hector and Cesar must overcome but the greater story is in the reasons that have pushed Hector and Cesar to make this choice. For one, their home region of Mexico, Oaxaca, has been overtaken by corporate farming and the heritage strain of Oaxaca’s indigenous corn is being bioengineered out of existence.  The corn is an underlying metaphor that pervades the novel as Hector’s own Zapotec heritage is threatened by modernisation and his decision to leave Mexico altogether.  Most of the novel takes place inside the water truck which conceals the boys’ identities but becomes their prison as it breaks down in the hot desert sun.  In dealing with this real conflict, Hector takes Cesar’s phone and tries to reach out for help.  Timely and gripping, The Jaguar’s Children will leave you with questions about our own responsibilities as global citizens and who gains most from economic policy.

Join me in TeachOntario for a great discussion beginning February 21, 2017. TeachOntario is an open space for educators and the public alike. This is our first fiction collaboration with the Ontario School Library Association and we’ve chosen The Jaguar’s Children because it is a) a wicked good book and b) because it was nominated for an Evergreen award by the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program.  The book club is inside the Explore section of TeachOntario as we are inviting the public to join in so please bring a friend.

To register for the book club, go here:

The inauguration in my school library learning commons

“Our approach to freedom need not be identical, but it must be intersectional and inclusive.” – Janet Mock, writer, TV host, transgender rights activist

Today I feel compelled to put into words my choice to broadcast the inauguration of the 45th U.S. President in my school library yesterday.

Living on the other side of the U.S. border has its challenges for a small town teacher-librarian.  While we dance around the idea of Canadian identity and what that means when our culture is represented, Canadian publishers in all media forms are still driven by American markets and American values.  So populating a library with well-loved material of  CanCon isn’t always what pleases the staff and students because we’ve been  gorging ourselves on the fire hose of American content.  But the direction of Trump’s politics is certainly affecting my library just 150 km from our border.  It is our mandate to give equal weight to the voices in my school respectfully, responsibly and compassionately.

When my principal put forward the idea of livestreaming the inauguration in our school, I was all for it from the beginning.  Generally, when I’m faced with a situation that feels precarious in the library I have to resist that flight feeling and instead push through.  I gather my community for support and so we put it to the staff that we were going to livestream the inauguration throughout the halls and in the learning commons.  We received the full spectrum of reactions…some who thought it was important and some who thought it was giving support to the wrong values. After some discussion back and forth we decided to show it in the library only and I think now it was the right decision because of the wide range of opinions and emotions in the school around this momentous occasion.   The dilemma seemed to be whether or not we should be giving hateful politics any space at all in our school community. Better to have staff on hand and nearby for students who are wrestling with the same strong emotions we’re having. I side with providing information openly first and then we can work through our disparate reactions together.  That’s my job and it gets me out of bed every morning.

We didn’t make any announcements at all, but I started to set up about an hour before Trump’s speech and the students just started pouring in. We have simply not had the technology before now to do this before and it was surprisingly easy.  I put up a question trying to focus on a critical thinking aspect of whatever we were about to see.  “What words does he use to persuade the audience?”  That was as neutral as I could manage.   I also made sure that the students knew they didn’t have to stay and that there was a quieter area in the lower library.  As the speech began I estimate that we had 150 students and 7 staff members watching.  We spoke quietly with the students asking what they thought of the words being used.  The end of his speech really enflamed some passionate responses but everyone was in control and respectful.  Just before the end of lunch, the videostream ended.

It inspired wonder!  Curiosity!  I heard:

“I wonder why they chose January 20th to begin his presidency?”

“I wonder how Trump’s changes will affect our economic relationship with the U.S.?”

“Is that racist?” “Are those all of Trump’s children?”  “Are there any black people in the audience?

I know it was the right thing to do.  This is why civic places exist in democracy.  It may be difficult to work through the issues we all feel are most important, but on my watch my library will continue to be a place where issues and voices can co-exist.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde, African American writer, feminist, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist

They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

They Left Us Everything: A MemoirThey Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first became interested in Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything as it has won the Ontario Library Association’s 2016 Evergreen award for best in Canadian adult fiction. This book is my surprise read of the year. Aging parents and all their stuff? The topic doesn’t really sell itself, does it? But then I engaged with Plum’s story as it speaks to the changing nature of family dynamics. Her family is challenged by her father’s Alzheimer’s disease, her brother’s cancer and the general decline of her mother. As her parents age and pass away, she is left with a monument to their time on Earth that seems psychologically insurmountable to deal with. Each item that Plum touches resonates with a history sometimes obvious but more likely it’s true meaning isn’t revealed until Plum has a series of serendipitous moments. This book spans the time it took Plum to deal with each item, the family disagreements about how to deal, and the time of putting it all to rest. This book is filled with the things that we think and don’t say and in joining Plum in her memoir, I feel better about the future challenges in my own life. It is descriptive and concise, and a true tribute to family dysfunction in all its glories. If I could, I’d buy a copy for each family member with a card attached that says “Fair warning.”

As I was searching, I found this article about the home itself filled with marvellous descriptive pictures that match the ones in my head:

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The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being a librarian, I rarely buy books anymore just for me but every now and then one leaps out at me, circulates through my family, and then makes its new home in my library where I recommend it to my secondary school readers. The Library at Mount Char reminds me of….American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips and The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric….with the style of Tom Robbins in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Is it just me or is there an emerging genre of gods living among us?

I can barely tell you about the book without spoilers but let me say something about the most enticing bits ….the library is THE library containing all the knowledge in the world (including resurrections, for example. …there us unspeakable violence and the threat of an approaching apocalypse and our antihero Carolyn has to learn all this while living with her 11 adopted brothers and sisters who are each mastering their own catalogue and experimenting on each other. It takes sibling pranks to a whole new level.

I will recommend this book to any student in my library who I suspect lives a double-life or has their sights on anarchy.

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#BIT16Reads Presentation: Building school cultures that support the integration of technology

The full presentation is here:

Our live results are here:

Made with Padlet

Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill

Any Known BloodAny Known Blood by Lawrence Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t help but say that I was hoping that this book would be the perfect addition to my secondary school library collection because once again Lawrence Hill tackles challenging topics of race and discrimination. In Any Known Blood Hill spends a devoted part of his novel to how being of mixed race makes people ostracized in all camps …not black enough, not white enough. Mixed race faces are the faces of young Canada and I see my students struggle with feeling comfortable in their own skin every day. The lineage of the Langston Cane men that forms the novel is fascinating to see the choices they’ve made through history and I’m a devotee of the multi-generational plot structures (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China One Hundred Years of Solitude A Fine Balance). However, the amount of sexuality in this book makes me uncomfortable as a public educator in recommending it to my young readers….which is too bad.

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The Best Bits of #BIT16Reads

Trying to grow and sustain a book club over 5 months has been a real experiment.  It all culminates in the biggest and best conference on educational technology in Ontario (maybe Canada!) which is the Bring IT Together conference.  If you’ve never been before, you’ll find a whole bunch of people who want to enable you to go to your next level.  My favourite day is the first one where we get to play in Minds on Media or work deeply in a 1/2 day workshop.  That’s where I’ll be on day 1…learning!

On Thursday November 10th we will finally meet face-to-face at the #BIT16Reads Book Club Breakfast →7:30 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. in the Peller Estates Ballroom A. Our Thursday morning begins with our #BIT16 Reads book club breakfast, right before the conference’s opening keynote speaker, provided through a partnership with TeachOntario and the Ontario School Library Association and facilitated by moi.  Looking forward to seeing you for breakfast and a byte!  We will have discussions through Twitter so make sure to use and follow the hashtag #BIT16Reads.  We will reveal one of the books for next year’s book club and there will be giveaways for everyone who attends.

On Friday November 11th at 10 a.m. in Peller Estates Ballroom D I will present

#BIT16Reads: Cultures that support tech integration in education

I encourage you to spend some time with me and open up some of the issues we encountered in our reading this year. I began this year’s book club asking the question: How can schools develop cultures that facilitate the integration of educational technology? Each of the 5 books we read this year offer insights into these answers.  Through research and leadership, critical thinking, learning strategies and education reform I think we have the power to begin and sustain this transformation.

Please drop me a line here or on Twitter where I’m @banana29 and let me know when we’ll meet up at #BIT16.  Personally, I can’t wait.


Best BITs: Preventing discrimination in schools

This week I’ve been focused on the overall message when reading pages 98 to 113 about how discrimination is embedded in the structures of our schools. I feel very protective of public education and how it needs to be accessible to all who attend.  Specifically, authors Zac Chase and Chris Lehmann highlight the barriers to learning that are perpetuated against race, sexual orientation and ability.

The authors go so far as to say that we need to be deliberately anti-racist; that we need to be deliberately inclusive in our heteronormative culture; and to create spaces for all student voices to be heard.

Are policies, procedures and structures the only place in our schools where we allow discrimination to persist?  Can you see areas in your school that need improvement?  Have you made any changes that have improved access for all student voices?

Last year in #BIT15Reads, we read a book by educator Jose Vilson that really touched me called: This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education by Jose Vilson — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists It’s just a really moving book as Jose writes passionately (like you Leah), and from a very raw place.  His blog is also amazing: The Jose Vilson | Educator – Writer – Activist – Father

Leah Kearney says: “Anti-discriminatory policies need to be in place to disrupt long-standing bias towards marginalized and racialized members that occur throughout our school systems, law enforcement systems and justice systems. We know that teenage males of colour seem to be on the receiving end of disciplinary measure much more than their counterparts, this is clearly evident in the data. But, what surprises people is that this bias occurs towards our earliest learners as well. Last month a study was released by the Yale Child Study Centre that revealed youngsters in child-care settings are also being regarded differently depending on their ethnicity and gender. “Implicit bias is like the wind — you can’t see it, but you can sure see its effects,” said Yale’s Walter Gilliam, an associate professor of child psychiatry and psychology and the lead researcher on the study. Gilliam said the findings show that implicit biases “do not begin with black men and police. They begin with young black boys and their preschool teachers — if not earlier.” Studies like this demand that we pay attention to our own biases and take measures to address them. Here is a link to a good article on the study;

Study: Teachers’ ‘implicit bias’ starts in preschool

Kate Johnson-McGregor says: “Certainly the issue of race and culture in our schools is at the forefront right now with the Truth and Reconciliation movement. I have noticed a significant increase in students looking for literature written by indigenous authors this fall – so much so that I’ve been researching and have just purchased two dozen books (fiction and non) to help serve the demand. So – I would say that as much as I strive to make my school library learning commons an inclusive space, perhaps I had not been as sensitive as I could have been to the FNMI literature collection. All school programs are limited by budget constraints and curriculum demands – and I suppose that it all comes down to timing. I have tried to keep current (I bought the TRC publications last fall when they were released for our non-fiction collection) and there is a certain amount of “supply and demand” to be considered. My goal is to be responsive to cultural, social and political shifts, as the students need me to be. So now is the time to invest in indigenous authors. And teaching in a high school on the edge of Six Nations, it is wonderful to see my students excited about seeing themselves and their culture reflected in literature.”


Best BITs: Wrestling with math in School 2.0

I wrestle with math.  There was a time when I was almost deemed gifted in math in grade 7 and then my grade 8 teacher proposed the concept of integers and it just blew my mind apart.  Later in grade 10 there was that time when I skipped math 23 times and obviously missed a lot of content.  When my good friend Darrin helped me scrape by in grade 11 with a 57%, I closed the door on my studies in math forever.  Yet as an adult I can do my own taxes, and I’m able to keep track in my gradebook, and generally function in my day-to-day living…or so I thought until my son started coming home with math homework.  Max is in grade 7 and is working through grade 4 work.  But having few skills and little passion for the topic, we struggle to do 2 – 3 hours per week of supplementary work.  All of Max’s ambitions are in the sciences and I just know that his options will be limited if we can’t get these math skills upgraded.

Looking around my school I see math being taught in pretty much the same way that I learned it.  Students are taught a new skill or concept over time with the use of a textbook and lots of questions.  Some innovative teachers give each student a whiteboard in order to give immediate feedback.  Fewer teachers use tangibles in a secondary classroom.  The entire department is working towards developing deeper understanding of math concepts in their professional development.  But it continues to distress me that the Ontario math curriculum hasn’t been updated since 2005.

Lehmann and Chase suggest that we need to adopt a similar attitude to Conrad Wolfram:

If it is true that math is part of so many of human innovations, then why do we continue to teach math in isolation rather than as part of other disciplines?  Do you see this changing in your school?  How would you like to see math education change in the future?

Kristy Luker countered my experience with her insight:

I am not sure if I can adequately talk about how Math should be taught when I excelled at Math in school. The methods used worked for me, but I do agree that there is a huge disconnect between what is taught and how we use Math in our everyday lives. In life we often stumble upon the Math, and I agree with Wolfram that it doesn’t present itself as a calculation. We have proceeded in education with the belief that if we focus on teaching children how to solve equations then when presented with problems they will be able to solve them. Unfortunately, students struggle to see what the computation question is in a problem that they need to calculate in the first place. I agree that focusing on critical thinking and extracting the Math out of real life scenarios would help bridge this gap.

We have been sewing a lot lately at our Enrichment & Innovation Centre. We are currently linking it to Science and Social Studies, but I can really see that as students get comfortable with sewing the rich Math that will immerse. The Math will become practical, necessary and real for the students. Fake problems can only get you so far. I can also see the 3D printer and the design programs that can be used with them leading to real life, hands on Math. You should have seen me trying to follow a bread recipe when I didn’t have all the right measuring cups! I was trying to find equivalent fractions! Or how about coding! Gosh the algebraic thinking that goes into creating loops!

Unfortunately, similar to the problems presented for Inquiry teaching, educators need to be comfortable with the notion that not all students may be learning the same thing at the same time. We get hung up on covering curriculum and panic about assessment. We need to discuss ways of tracking student achievement and be provided with the time to truly digest our curriculum. I have said  over and over that one of the reasons that I am comfortable using Inquiry is that I know my curriculum. I see the learning that is happening and understand where it fits on a continuum of learning in order to help create a next step with a student.

I think as educators we have to find a balance between what we know is best pedagogy and what we can manage and handle based on the size of our current classrooms. These leads me to wondering how much changing the student to teacher ratio would and could affect our practices? Many of the methods we use in our classrooms exist as managing techniques. We do things to keep things neat, tidy and predictable. But learning isn’t those things. Learning is MESSY!

Math does need to infiltrate all disciplines to be authentic. It would be best not taught in isolation. Embed it into art, dance, science, social studies etc. . . make it real by pondering real numbers and real questions.”

Kristy and I are both looking forward to your responses.

Best BITs: What should school look like?

Zac Chase and Chris Lehmann ask us:

  • What do you think school should be doing?
  • What is the role of school in the modern world?
  • What does success look like?

Leah Kearney, Kristy Luker and I took these questions apart a bit.  Here’s how it went:

LEAH: I posed this very question to my Faculty of Education students last year and was struck by their hesitancy to answer the question. The movement to create modern schools that serve our students goes beyond laptops and tablets (although they are certainly part of the discussion) and addresses the rapid societal changes that we are undergoing. How can we best create places of rich inquiry and learning, collaboration, wonder and dare I say… joy? I cringe when I hear that are goal is to create students that society needs, it seems to me like our goals need to be loftier.

ALANNA: I found your part about the hesitancy of teachers (new and old!) to respond to ring very true!  In fact, I think that very question is probably what causes the most ripples in our leadership team.  We re-worded our school’s core values last year and this is what we came up with after 3 meetings…and I’d love your response:

We do what’s best for each student by:

Having a culture of collaboration,

Continually striving to improve our practice,

Purposefully designing for deep understanding

LEAH: I read and re-read your school value statement and was struck by a few things; the simplicity, the accountability and the call to action. What was the process like of trying to distill all of your ideas into something so succinct and compelling. How will you use the statement as a marker of your actions? So often mission statements are laboured over and then forgotten. Keen to hear how your staff is using it to shape practice.

ALANNA: I think that the process of having a group of disparate but motivated teachers hashout and rehash why these things are really important was a very valuable experience.  I really struggle though to see how these statements are going to actually drive us…and the reason is that they aren’t really any different than what we’re already doing.  So there is no striving forward.  There’s just status quo.  In fact the team of teachers that developed the statements has almost evaporated and been reborn with new teachers in these leadership roles…so we have a new group of people who aren’t personally connected to our core values.  But such is the way of public education in Ontario in the year 2016!  Out of 100 staff we have 25 who are LTO and they are not nearly as informed or experienced or committed as the contract teachers, even though they would desperately like to be hired!  For the first time in my career, I’m starting to see the cycle repeat itself and I’m feeling old (at the age of 44!).  I totally see the necessity of repeating the valuable process for each invested stakeholder, but I’m not sure I want to.

Instead I’m using these core values as a springboard for my own work this year.  I’d like to begin to curriculum map the whole school with these concepts in mind:

  • inquiry
  • reflection
  • 21st century competencies

What are we already doing in our school? What gaps do we have?  Where are the redundancies?  And can I develop tools to help teachers and students to fill in those gaps?  Can I see a continuum in our school of these concepts and if not can I help support the development of a continuum?  These are my burning questions.

KRISTY: What should school look like? – Oh my! In my current role as a Gifted Itinerant teacher working in a Maker space that question certainly calls into question the physical space aspect of school. Our classroom has flexible work spaces, different pockets of spaces to work in that address various learning needs (quiet living room area, busy maker space, a kitchen for gathering). Do I think that every space has to look like my space. No. I think that different Maker spaces can look different. However,  a common thread woven among each Maker Space would be that the spaces allow for flexible groupings, that the room highlights various learning styles, that the space encourages students to take risks and make mistakes. I envision a space that values a multitude of disciplines and allows students the opportunity to pursue their own learning needs, when desired, independently from the group.

What should school be doing? – I LOVED the idea addressed in the book of building citizens rather than marketable employees. I believe that schools should be developing critical thinkers who respect the opinions and ideas of others. I believe that schools should empower individuals while teaching students how to think collaboratively. I believe that schools should help students understand and develop their strengths instead of focusing on fixing deficits.

What is the role of the school in the modern world?I know much of what I said above could fit here too, but I also see schools as creating informed citizens who understand World Issues and have the creativity, knowledge, problem solving skills, confidence and ability to work with others to solve them. I don’t mean just through paid employment, but through everyday actions, choices, activities etc. Additionally, school should assist in developing (along with the family) citizens that value themselves and the others around them for the various “gifts”, “skills”, “abilities” that they have.

What does success look like? – At my Leadership course this evening my table group and I got into a discussion about data. I am not sure that quantitative data alone can measure the success of a school. I personally love qualitative data, and appreciate the push for educators to begin looking at a model of triangulation of data when assessing students. Unfortunately, measures such as EQAO have not yet caught up to where we are in respect to assessment in the classroom and therefore many schools and educators continue to struggle with how to interpret the quantitative data that is provincially collected on their students. As a mother, I gauge the success of my own children by their feelings and emotions. When my primary aged children skip happily to the bus every morning and return home telling me about their day – then success in some form has occurred!

ALANNA: You’ve really got my mind going here.  At our PD day last week we got to hear the inspirational Sandra Herbst revisit the triangulation of data with us…but your comments here have made me wonder why we don’t collect conversations/observations and products about our own teaching environments and classes.  I think a lot of I do each day would support your thoughts about school in the modern world…I’d just add that we need to give them authentic experiences as often as possible.  Maybe in those authentic experiences come the skills that students will need to market themselves to go along with their learning portfolios.  I graduated in the doldrums of the economy in 1994 and I still regret not having more practical skills to get me through …I really struggled to value and market my education skills. I guess it’s the “prepare for a zombie apocalypse” side of me that worries that our kids don’t know how to raise their own food, etc. in the case of an impending disaster.  I often think…what would Chris Hadfield do?  He’d prevent the crisis by proactively making sure that his lifestyle was sustainable.  I think this readiness and adaptability has to be part of school in the modern world.

Best BITS: What are your learning rules?

Author Benedict Carey made this quick video to summarize some the findings he uncovered when writing his book “How We Learn”.

Benedict Carey: unlearn everything you’ve learned about learning from frank on Vimeo.

As a teacher and/or as a parent, what are some of the learning structures you put in place?  Are there methods you rely on day in and day out that you swear by as good practice?  Has the book (so far) shaken up your learning ideals?

In my house, we focus on math 3 nights a week and reading 4 nights a week.  I have the same location each time, the same start time and finish time, the same rhythm…start with some worksheets and end using the software Dreambox.  Get a reward when goals are met.  That all seems so sensible to me.  Repeat , repeat the concepts in a different modality, repeat in a tangible, practical way….  I think we need to question Carey’s definition of learn.  If learn means memorize, then that’s different than understand deeply.  Like with math, music, language….where there is a lot of memorization, then repetition makes sense.  Adding real world applications and real world distractions also makes sense but not until the basics are understood.  Do you think these are the best methods for history?  I’ve always thought the best way to learn history would be for someone to hurry up and invent Star Trek’s Holodeck Image result for star trek holodeck

…so that we could walk safely and virtually through history in order to experience it from multiple perspectives.

Elizabeth Mason Brown reminded me of the pencil problem that Carey proposes:

You have six pencils to create 4 equilateral triangles. They cannot crisscross and you cannot break them.

Elizabeth says: ” I think that Carey’s ideas about incubation and percolation can definitely lend themselves to subjects that require deeper understanding. I’ve felt for a long time that too much emphasis on just memorization or just critical thinking or just math skills or just literacy skills is short-sighted and doesn’t best serve our students. To meet the needs of learners who have no idea what the world will be like in 10 years, we have to prepare them to be more flexible thinkers, and I am continually searching for ways to achieve this. I had an AHA moment while reading the book, around the Pencil test. I must admit that at first I was unable to solve the problem. I hit that impasse and walked away. Without really working the problem, an idea came to me full-blown and I was able to solve the problem. Now, I can’t say for sure that his ideas are all on target, but I can see how allowing ourselves to walk away from a difficult problem might relax us enough or give us some form of insight that allows us to use our existing knowledge in a new way or innovatively think that lets us see the solution we have been seeking.”

So what do you think?  I look forward to your thoughts.

Best BITs: Admiring administrators

What are the 3 qualities you admire most in your favourite school administrator ever?  Here’s what our group inside TeachOntario said:

  • “…openness, approachability, and excellent communication skills, an understanding of academic subjects, a belief in trauma-informed classrooms, and a positive, trusting attitude towards their teachers.  I have had Principals whom I knew “had my back,” and trusted me;  they helped me grow professionally.”~Anne Rocchio
  • “…Allowing staff to explore and pursue their passions/interests as well as leadership opportunities; Approachability; Respect and support I have been also lucky to have had administrators who have allowed me to attend workshops and conferences every year. It is also important when administrators are approachable and take the time to listen.~Jess Longthorne
  • “…mutual respect; openness to new ideas brought in by staff; challenging the “norms” of the school to create a culture of learning”~Daniel Pinizzotto
  • “I admire principals that are passionate about school improvement. Ones that constantly seek ways that we can do better. I appreciate leaders that allow people to take risks when trying something new. I also like to feel supported.”~Michael McClenaghan
  • “Administrators who make a point of sharing an interest in their colleagues’ areas of focus while supporting growth, demonstrate the importance of learning.”~Sean Kelly
  • “They believe in me! – I actually think that this sums it all up! When I have had educators who have believed in me then it as resulted in autonomy, trust, opportunities, professional dialogues etc. . . Additionally, it also means that they pay attention and actually listen to what I am saying and are willing to take risks with me.”~Kristy Luker
  • “Someone who has a vision and is transparent about what they expect; Someone who gives teachers freedom to try new things (especially technology!); Someone who communicates clearly”~Larissa Aradj

I like administrators with vision.  I like them to think globally and to act locally.  I like to have a focus.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to add to the conversation.